Sewerby Stories

Short stories covering the history of Sewerby Hall and the surrounding area.

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Why Lock a Tea Caddy?

This is a tea caddy dating from the eighteenth century. It has a hinged lid and a functioning lock set in an elliptical shaped escutcheon. Inside are two lead foil-lined compartments with lids for storing tea leaves, when out of use, the caddy was locked and the key was the property of the housekeeper.

The caddy has been elaborately constructed using a variety of wood veneers and techniques; the carcass is pine onto which a burr walnut veneer has been applied, with edge stringing in box wood veneer to conceal the butt joints and avoid exposing the pine carcass. On the front face is marquetry inlay depicting a sea shell. The border around the elliptical shaped frame for the shell motif is also box; the background to the shell is holly wood which has been dyed. The shell itself is of box wood veneer, constructed in eight pieces and inlaid; the shadow effects have been made using a clever cabinet maker's technique of hot sanding. The deft application of hot sand to certain areas has singed the box wood, burning into the veneer to create the shading.

The rich materials and costly marquetry craftsmanship is indicative of the social status of tea during the eighteenth century. Its meteoric rise in popularity from a genteel refreshment of showy country house elites in the seventeenth century to the nation's drink of choice by 1750 was tremendous.

It is to this fact that the government, trying to make sure Britain exported more goods than it imported, taxed incoming goods like tea. In 1733 a pound of tea cost 5 shillings; 4 shillings and 9 pence of that was tax! So tea became a valuable commodity requiring careful storage under lock and key, as a pound of tea was more expensive than a gallon of French brandy. But there was another reason for such heavy taxation, throughout the eighteenth century Britain was at war no less than eight times, fighting at one time or another, the French, Spanish, Dutch, America and Indian Mysore at crippling expense to the exchequer.

Whilst tea was so heavily taxed, there were enterprising individuals prepared to go to great lengths to avoid paying it. Our heritage coastline in this part of Yorkshire with its secluded coves, caves and isolated beaches were well known to the coble sailing communities in Flamborough, Sewerby and Bridlington. As well as landing their catch of fish, the cobles were easily modified with false floors to conceal smuggled goods, quaintly known as 'free trade'. Smuggling was big business for these coastal communities. A pound of tea cost 6 pence in Holland, which was recharged to English smugglers for 2 shillings, when sold on at home for 4 shillings and 6 pence, it represented a handsome profit.

To stem the illegal landing of smuggled goods, men with local knowledge were employed as Riding Officers to patrol the coastline. The Customs Officer for Flamborough was Thomas Whytehead, who in July 1736 reported that 1200 pounds of tea was landed at Sewerby, 700 pounds of which was found stashed in farm buildings at Skipsea. A further 200 pounds of tea intended to be landed at Sewerby Carr in the dead of night, was intercepted by Whytehead and his opposite number at Bridlington, Thomas Stavely, confiscated and hauled to the custom house in Bridlington. The customs officers continued to play cat and mouse with smugglers until William Pitt's government reduced the tax on tea from 119% to 12.5% in 1783 making it unprofitable to smuggle. However, tea continued to be stored in caddies such as this because after all, it is a lovely object cared for in the collection at Sewerby Hall.

Wagoners' Special Reserve Lapel

This is a lapel badge bearing the motif of the Wagoners' Special Reserve made to indicate members of this unique corps conceived by Sir Mark Sykes of Sledmere in 1912.

Sykes had seen active service in South Africa during the Boer War and witnessed the logistical problems of transporting men, supplies and equipment to the front line. When he returned from that conflict he worked tirelessly with the Territorial Army and lobbying government to create a unit dedicated to army transport. He was well aware of the skills of the drivers of single pole waggons on the farms up and down the Wolds - many of which were part of the Sledmere estate. He also knew it required six months to train a regular soldier in handling horses and to drive the waggon; horselads of the Wolds were already skilled in precisely what was required. He initiated the Fimber waggon driving trials at Fimber Bottoms in 1912 and through this was able to press the War Office to sign the drivers up as reservists. In 1913, the Wagoners' Special Reserve was established, but this had taken six years and only then because Sir Mark was MP for Hull and had the ear of politicians. For signing up, each Wagoner was paid £1 which they referred to as the 'silly quid' for being paid to do nothing as they saw it. However, active service on the Front wasn't far away.

The following year when war was declared the Wagoners were at the vanguard of the British Expeditionary Force and among the first to go to France; by August 1914, 1127 Wolds horselads had joined up. The Wagoners became part of the ASC of the British Army, though they weren't trained soldiers but accomplished waggon drivers and horse handlers unique to this area, their role was dedicated to keep supply lines operational. Originally billeted miles from the Front, transporting food, ammunition and equipment was extremely hazardous especially as the German heavy artillery was regularly trained on crossroads and main routes to the Front.

Sir Mark wanted to honour the Wagoners' courage and service and sought to memorialise them in a monument. The Wagoners' Memorial was designed by Sir Mark and carved by Carlo Magnoni in the form of a miniature Trajan's Column depicting the story of the Wagoners. It was sited in Sledmere village across the road from the church and unveiled in 1920; it remains a poignant memorial to the brave lads who played such a key role in the First World War but also essential to working farms on the Wolds. Sir Mark never saw the memorial unveiled as he contracted the virus in the Spanish Flu Pandemic and died in 1919.